Tuesday, January 24, 2012
The only good thing about time flying by faster and faster each year, is that artichokes season is here before I know it. Yes. It’s that wonderful time of the year again, when the markets in Rome are stacked high with big, fat green/grey globes of petaled blossoms.
The first ones to make it into town from the fields of Lazio are the cimaroli. These are the larger-than-life orbs that are from the ‘cima’ or top, of the artichoke plant. In other words, this is where all the pent up nutrients and energy of the plant end up, making these first artichokes not only humongous, but incredibly tender, flavorful and with barely any choke at all.
The ways to enjoy them are endless. The classic Rome dish is Carciofi alla Romana, but I also like them sliced thinly and simply dressed with lemon and olive oil. And then there’s the totally awesome lasagna with artichokes, which is beyond good.
One of my favorite ways to eat artichokes though, is in risotto. I have to admit I don’t make risotto so often. Partly out of laziness, but also because for years Sophie decided she didn’t like risotto. (She’s a pasta girl, 100%. So Roman it’s hard to believe). But now that Sophie’s living up in London, the risotto door has swung wide open.
There are certainly risottos that are prettier (like this one) but artichoke risotto is one of my favorites. There is something about the creaminess of the starchy rice that blends so well with the sweet, but bitter, flavor of the artichokes.
There are plenty of artichoke risotto recipes out there. But I add a few twists to mine that I think makes it even better. Rather than use onions, I opt for end-of-winter leeks. They are milder than onions, and besides adding a sweeter allium taste, they also dissolve and add to the overall creaminess. And while wild mentuccia (calamintha nepeta L.) is called for in a lot of artichoke dishes in Rome, I prefer menta romana (mentha spicata L.) which I add at the very end, along with freshly cut strips of lemon peel.
These last two additions not only add a springy freshness to the dish, but also give it a much needed burst of color. Because, come on. Risotto ai Carciofi isn’t gonna win any beauty contests. Even if I do put it on a bright blue plate.
Risotto ai Carciofi (Risotto with Artichokes)
(serves four to six)
Let me say right here that when I make risotto I usually ere on the side of whatever vegetable I’m using. In other words, my ratio to veg/rice leans more on the veg side than is traditional.
And yes. You do need all the butter. Believe me.
4 Tablespoon of butter
1 tablespoon of olive oil
6 large artichokes, cleaned and sliced (for detailed instructions + video on that see here, here and here)
2 large leeks, washed of grit and sliced
3 etti / 10 oz of arborio rice
1/2 cup white wine
6 cups broth (best if home made, but if in a pinch, used prepared)
1/2 cup grated parmigiano (although I used local grated pecorino)
1/3 cup mint leaves, torn
grated rind from one lemon
Bring a pot of broth to a slow simmer.
In another large pot, add 2 tablespoons of butter and the olive oil. Heat gently and add the leeks and salt and pepper. Let leeks cook for about 8 minutes, until wilted.
Add cut up artichokes, stir, and cook until they become tender. (about ten minutes or so). If they start to brown, add a bit of water.
Add rice and stir well, letting the rice absorb any liquid that is in the pan. Add the wine and let the rice absorb this.
Add about 2 cups of broth, stir, and let simmer. Keep adding broth, a ladle full at a time, until the rice is just about done. This will take anywhere from 15 to 20 minutes, depending on the rice.
When the rice is about 4 minutes from being done (still a bit firm to the tooth) add the butter and give a good stir. Keep cooking and then add the cheese, stir, and take off heat.
Let the rice sit for a couple of minutes. Add half the mint and lemon, and stir.
Spoon into individual plates and top each dish with a bit of mint and lemon. Place a bowl of grated cheese on the table.